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   Chapter 10 SYLVIA SIGHS

Kincaid's Battery By George Washington Cable Characters: 8940

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


The house was of brick. So being, in a land where most dwellings are of wood, it had gathered beauty from time and dignity from tried strength, and with satisfying grace joined itself to its grounds, whose abundance and variety of flowering, broad-leaved evergreens lent, in turn, a poetic authenticity to its Greek columns and to the Roman arches of its doors and windows. Especially in these mild, fragrant, blue nights was this charm potent, and the fair home seemed to its hidden beholder forever set apart from the discords and distresses of a turbulent world. And now an upper window brightened, its sash went up, and at the veranda's balustrade Anna stood outlined against the inner glow.

She may have intended but one look at the stars, but they and the spiced air were enchanting, and in confidence that no earthly eye was on her she tarried, gazing out to the farthest gleam of the river where it swung southward round the English Turn.

Down in the garden a mirthful ecstasy ran through all the blood of her culprit observer and he drank to her only with his eyes. Against the window's brightness her dark outline showed true, and every smallest strand of her hair that played along the contours of brow and head changed his merriment to reverence and bade his heart recognize how infinitely distant from his was her thought. Hilary Kincaid! can you read no better than that?

Her thought was of him. Her mind's eye saw him on his homeward ride. It marked the erectness of his frame, the gayety of his mien, the dance of his locks. By her inner ear she heard his horse's tread passing up the narrow round-stone pavements of the Creole Quarter, presently to echo in old St. Peter Street under the windows of Pontalba Row--one of which was Flora's. Would it ring straight on, or would it pause between that window and the orange and myrtle shades of Jackson Square? Constance had said that day to Miranda--for this star-gazer to overhear--that she did not believe Kincaid loved Flora, and the hearer had longed to ask her why, but knew she could not tell. Why is a man's word. "They're as helpless without it," the muser recalled having very lately written on a secret page, "as women are before it. And yet a girl can be very hungry, at times, for a why. They say he's as brave as a lion--why is he never brave to me?"

So futilely ended the strain on the remembered page, but while his unsuspected gaze abode on her lifted eyes her thought prolonged the note: "If he meant love to-night, why did he not stand to his meaning when I laughed it away? Was that for his friend's sake, or is he only not brave enough to make one wild guess at me? Ah, I bless Heaven he's the kind that cannot! And still--oh, Hilary Kincaid, if you were the girl and I the man! I shouldn't be on my way home; I'd be down in this garden--." She slowly withdrew.

Hilary, stepping back to keep her in sight, was suddenly aware of the family coachman close at his side. Together they moved warily a few steps farther.

"You mus' escuse me, Cap'n," the negro amiably whispered. "You all right, o' co'se! Yit dese days, wid no white gen'leman apputtainin' onto de place--"

"Old man!" panted Hilary, "you've saved my life!"

"Oh, my Lawd, no! Cap'n, I--"

"Yes, you have! I was just going into fits! Now step in and fetch me out here--" He shaped his arms fantastically and twiddled his fingers.

Bending with noiseless laughter the negro nodded and went.

Just within her window, Anna, still in reverie, sat down at a slender desk, unlocked a drawer, then a second one inside it, and drew forth--no mere secret page but--a whole diary! "To Anna, from Miranda, Christmas, 1860." Slowly she took up a pen, as gradually laid it by again, and opposite various dates let her eyes rest on--not this, though it was still true:

"The more we see of Flora, the more we like her."

Nor this: "Heard a great, but awful, sermon on the duty of resisting Northern oppression."

But this: "Connie thinks he 'inclines' to me. Ho! all he's ever said has been for his far-away friend. I wish he would incline, or else go ten times as far away! Only not to the war--God forbid! Ah, me, how I long for his inclining! And while I long he laughs, and the more he laughs the more I long, for I never, never so doted on any one's laugh. Oh, shame! to love before--"

What sound was that below? No mocking-bird note, no south wind in the foliage, but the kiss of fingers on strings

! Warily it stole in at the window, while softly as an acacia the diary closed its leaves. The bent head stirred not, but a thrill answered through the hearer's frame as a second cadence ventured up and in and a voice followed it in song. Tremblingly the book slid into the drawer, inner and outer lock clicked whisperingly, and gliding to a door she harkened for any step of the household, while she drank the strains, her bosom heaving with equal alarm and rapture.

If any song is good which serves a lover's ends we need claim no more for the one that rose to Anna on the odors of the garden and drove her about the room, darting, clinging, fluttering, returning, like her own terrified bird above her in its cage.

When Sylvia sighs

And veils the worshipped wonder

Of her blue eyes

Their sacred curtains under,

Naught can so nigh please me as my tender anguish.

Only grief can ease me while those lashes languish.

Woe best beguiles;

Mirth, wait thou other whiles;

Thou shalt borrow all my sorrow

When Sylvia smiles.

But what a strange effect! Could this be that Anna. Callender who "would no more ever again seem small, than the ocean?" Is this that maiden of the "belated, gradual smile" whom the singer himself so lately named "a profound pause?" Your eyes, fair girl, could hardly be more dilated if they saw riot, fire, or shipwreck. Nor now could your brow show more exaltation responsive to angels singing in the sun; nor now your frame show more affright though soldiers were breaking in your door. Anna, Anna! your fingers are clenched in your palms, and in your heart one frenzy implores the singer to forbear, while another bids him sing on though the heavens fall. Anna Callender! do you not know this? You have dropped into a chair, you grip the corners of your desk. Now you are up again, trembling and putting out your lights. And now you seek to relight them, but cannot remember the place or direction of anything, and when you have found out what you were looking for, do not know how much time has flown, except that the song is still in its first stanza. Are you aware that your groping hand has seized and rumpled into its palm a long strand of slender ribbon lately unwound from your throat?

A coy tap sounds on her door and she glides to it. "Who--who?" But in spite of her it opens to the bearer of a lamp, her sister Constance.

"Who--who--?" she mocks in soft glee. "That's the question! 'Who is Sylvia?'"

"Don't try to come in! I--I--the floor is all strewn with matches!"

The sister's mirth vanishes: "Why, Nan! what is the matter?"

"Do-on't whisper so loud! He's right out there!"

"But, dearie! it's nothing but a serenade."

"It's an outrage, Con! How did he ever know--how did he dare to know--this was my window? Oh, put out that lamp or he'll think I lighted it--No! no! don't put it out, he'll think I did that, too!"

"Why, Nan! you never in your life--"

"Now, Connie, that isn't fair! I won't stay with you!" The speaker fled. Constance put out the light.

A few steps down and across a hall a soft sound broke, and Anna stood in Miranda's doorway wearing her most self-contained smile: "Dearie!" she quietly said, "isn't it too ridiculous!"

Miranda crinkled a smile so rife with love and insight that Anna's eyes suddenly ran full and she glided to her knees by the seated one and into her arms, murmuring, "You ought both of you to be ashamed of yourselves! You're totally mistaken!"

Presently, back in the dusk of her own room, an audible breathing betrayed her return, and Constance endeavoured to slip out, but Anna clung: "You sha'n't go! You sha'--" Yet the fugitive easily got away.

Down among the roses a stanza had just ended. Anna tiptoed out half across the dim veranda, tossed her crumpled ribbon over the rail, flitted back, bent an ear, and knew by a brief hush of the strings that the token had drifted home.

The die was cast. From brow and heart fled all perturbation and once more into her eyes came their wonted serenity--with a tinge of exultation--while the strings sounded again, and again rose the song:

When Sylvia smiles

Her eyes to mine inclining,

Like azure isles

In seas of lovelight shining,

With a merry madness find I endless pleasure--

Till she sighs--then sadness is my only treasure.

Woe best beguiles;

Mirth, wait thou other whiles,

Thou shalt borrow all my sorrow

When Sylvia smiles.

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